tv [untitled] June 16, 2012 2:30pm-3:00pm EDT
john's testimony was very effective. but they had a contrary position. of course you had mitchell and you had everything in between. and so, the american people are not willing, i don't care who the president is, they're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. they're very suspicious of his detractors. i think president clinton, for example, got the benefit of his enemies when he got in trouble. >> didn't trouble. >> different kind of trouble. when we found out about the taping system, you know, 100 things went through our mind at the same time. is the old fox setting us up? was butterfield planted. well, obviously not. he didn't know he was going to be called as a witness. or to be interviewed to begin
with. would they exonerate nixon. was he waiting to spring this? you know, lots of different things. were they still present? were they still in existence. had they long since been destroyed. i think butterfield has been destroyed. >> the entire time the taping system was there. >> but anyway, they could have still gotten rid of him. so all those things came to mind. it was only when the heat got so hot and the president resisted for so long and took him so much heat while still refusing to give up the tapes that it became obvious to me that there were much more serious problems than i had ever thought there was. >> richard, how did the tapes change the game? >> they were essential to proving a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice.
here, you know, as jim lehrer said earlier the system worked. but the system would not have worked had not the president taped himself and had not we been able to obtain the tapes because the court ruled in our favor saying that no man is above the law or the grand jury was entitled to the evidence. in fact, the senate was denied the tapes. their attempt to get the tapes failed. the courts however, said that the watergate special prosecutors office working with the grand jury was entitled to get the tapes. >> did that drive the decision to name him as an unindicted co-conspirator? >> the decision was rather convoluted to name richard nixon as an unindicted co-conspirator. the furor of the tapes as fred said i think began to change
public opinion and public opinion then shifted dramatically once richard nixon fired archibald cox a special prosecutor who was promised to have the security of getting an investigation unless he engaged in misconduct. quite clearly there was no misconduct. he was following the evidence and yet he was fired in the saturday night massacre. one of the most dramatic perhaps the most dramatic episode in automatic of watergate when the president took the resignation of the attorney general el yoet richards and the deputy and finally it fell to robert bourke to do the deed of firing archibald cox. at that point you saw a tremendous shift in public opinion against richard nixon. now believing that the president of the united states was covering up something that he wasn't being honest with the
american public that he wasn't going to play by the rules. and then finally the evidence on the tapes as we listened to the tapes for the first final and heard john dean provide in the cancer on the presidency speech that he gave to richard nixon, chapter in verses giving richard nixon every benefit of the doubt that he didn't know all the things that had happened that quite clearly he did know. and then telling the president, look, you've got to stop it now. you've got to quick now. it's untenable. you have to stop the cover up. perchry's been committed. obstruction of justice. people are going to have to go to jail. you need to get beyond this and richard nixon said quite unequivocally you've got to continue the cover up. you've got to continue paying the hush money. you've got to keep the cap on it. still longer. and so this listening to this to
me and then to leon who had followed archibald cox as special prosecutor became the most decisive part of the investigation. >> you know, were you the happiest person in washington when the president -- when alexander butterfield confirmed your suspicion that there was a white house taping system? >> what's curious is that as alex and i have discussed over the years, one it have to the reasons that prompted the question is don sanders a minority council had raised the question of whether my claim in my testimony that i believed i had been recorded particularly on april 15th, was potentially accurate. >> that was the question they put to us. he said it's very likely he was recorded. what's ironic about that is it was just a couple sentences i
put in. i had really completed my testimony. >> i've got a put a plug in for the national archives. you can access these tapes. they're on the web. you can get them from the nixon library. they belong to the american people. and they are an extraordinary record of presidential abuses of power, and some good presidential things, too. in resttro speck, does this hol any lessons today? anything to learn from it today?
>> oh, gosh. that's a broad one. a cover up in general of any kind. i guess what keeps repeating itself, i suppose and my private work and this, magnified about ten million times, is the adages about human nature. the nature of power and how it does tend to corrupt. you're not surprised at much you hear in you've been in the courtroom a while or if you've lived a good while, you know that people are capable of lots of things. even pretty good people are capable of bad things especially if they have some kind of a justification for it. if they feel like there is a higher good. and what we see here, i think,
and watergate, it's taken literally to the presidential level. i was taken by something a historian wrote back about the time. he said the proliferation of the office of the presidency itself is a problem. it's gotten bigger and more people and less accountability and i think one of the things you said earlier is true. nixon never occurred to him that anybody would ever see these those tapes or hear those tapes because that's what the presidency had been to him. he had watched it over the years and historically the president was too powerful to be dragged down by the likes of some politician over on capitol hill. >> you know that the kennedy and johnson and roosevelt tapes were unknown to the national archives until alexander butterfield revealed the nixon tapes. so that in that sense tapes
didn't belong to the american people. but all of that changed. >> the fact of the matter was there was a lot to cover up. it wasn't just who authorized this break-in, they had broken in before. they had made recordings and photographed documents and that material was within the white house. people knew about it. but the fact was that there were all these different things that john mitchell himself, president nixon's close ally and attorney general characterized them as the white house horrors. so most significantly the break-in to daniel elseberg's psychiatrist's office which was conducted by the same team that broke into the -- into the watergate building that we're sitting in this evening. so many things that had been done. any single one of which today
would have been cause for screaming headlines. one goes back and looks over the, you know, the kinds of things that were done the idea of fire becomes the brookings institution to steal material from their safe. the idea of paying thugs to rough up anti-war demonstrators, the list goes on. the enemies list. >> we should ask the audience how many were on the enemies list? i would assume a number of them. at the time it was a big deal. it was a badge of honor. >> the fact is that knicnixon h surrounded himself with people who vied for his attention. and the way to get nixon's approval was to bring the dead mouse to his door. to show that you were a tough guy. to show that you weren't bound by the rules that you remember going to play hard knuckle
politics and in the end that didn't -- >> for those that are watching, who weren't alive then, watergate is more than just a bungled break-in in this building. that's what unravels the conspiracy. but as mr. wood ward and mr. bernstein reminds us just a few days ago, watergate also comprises what richard mentioned in terms of the watergate horrors. things that occurred in '71 and arguably things that occurred right back to 1969. john, what are the lessons? >> what are the lessons? one of the questions you posed to me is how i feel after archibald cox had been fired. i had decided to plead. i still to this day my lawyer who's here tonight charlie shafer had hold me, he said, john, you have the case that we now can describe as soldier north's case and they can't
touch you. but the lesson to me was charlie you may be right. and he obviously was right from a legal standpoint, but still for those who get involved the lesson is to be accountable. to stand up, tell the truth because the truth is really the only way these things get resolved. and while there are revisionists out there who are trying to rewrite that truth at this point, we basically have the best historical record we'll ever have and it not only corroborates those of us who were involved many the unraveling it corroborates what the washington post did and how they did it. so that's the lesson. the truth is the answer to solve these problems. >> i would say -- [ applause ] >> i would say as an historian i wish that presidents would keep taping. one of the things the tapes did was remove plausible deniablity which was developed in the cold
war to separate presidents from controversial and in some cases illegal decisions. the tapes eliminate that and you see the president's role. >> could i kind of elaborate on what we're talking about a minute ago. i think -- first of all, watergate is unique in american history. part of the reason richard was talking about because the cover up in large part was because of things that had been done that really had nothing to do with watergate in part. but by emphasizing the uniqueness of it so much in a way we're in danger of minimizing it. in that the traces of the elements of watergate are little pieces of it are thrown throughout history and still with us. the tendencies that i was talking about the misuse of the fbi and taping people and getting president's getting dirt
on their opposition and using authorities to do certain things. using national security as the defendant. every day we live with the question today of the real line, when is national security not national security? and does a war matter? does an undeclared war matter? are all bets off? is it only foreign or can it be domestic? they were doing these things, the houston plan that was drawn up in 1970 i think, but need to keep in mind was in the midst of a very unique time in american history. in 679 to 72, we were having bombings and demonstrations and people killed. hundreds of thousands of people coming to washington. 17,000 troops circling the white house to protect it. congress was become bombed.
the capital building was bombed you had the response from kent state and what was going on on all these campus and revolutionary talk and all of that. that is the kus that they came up with. not just to properly respond to it. i think a pretty dog gone tough response was called for myself. but the plumbers, the houston plan, and all these high school harry not thought out, unethical extra judicial measures were used to justify that. >> have in mind that nixon employed methods that j. edgar hoover refused to do. that may be the standard. >> you know the reason for that because hoover was a practical man and he had sense enough to know it was dangerous and wouldn't work. >> and with that, i want to
welcome back mary jordan and thank our panelists for a great discussion. thank you. [ applause ] >> this is american history tv on c-span3. 48 hours of people and events that helped document the american story. few we continue with the watergate conference that took place monday. the second panel discusses the legacy of watergate with william cohen. associate minority counsel to the judicial area william well and former nixon administration deputy counsel eagle bud crow. this portion is about 30 minutes. >> up next we're going to talk about the legacy of watergate. please join me in welcoming our
next guests. he had just come from maine. he was a freshman congressman and landed on the hot seat of the house judiciary committee. and former massachusetts governor bill weld. he's the young blonde on the left of your screen. when that photo was taken he was the society counsel on the house watergate committee. and eagle bud crow. no, he's not the guy in the middle. he's currently a senior fellow at the center for the study of the presidency in congress.
and then when he was working in the white house for president nixon he was the co-director of the special investigators unit that we know as the plumbers. welcome. so we're going to talk about the big issues, the impact on journalism and politics. but i thought that we should start right off all three of you have had remarkable careers. you were all about 30 when this happened. how did watergate affect you personally? bill, cohen did it change your career path in any way? >> it did. i must say that i was almost an accidental participant in this entire affair. when i first was elected in 1972, they had a new program at harvard the kennedy institute. and they were going to have an kparmtal program to see whether or not freshman congress could have an impact on public policy. and they selected four of us.
we went there for several weeks, pat moan han was one of my professors. and a young man by the name of mark tal isman was the director of the program. the only thing i can recall from the entire harvard experience was the advice that mark gave to me. he said when you get to washington, they're going to ask you to make a list of the committees you want to be on. make sure the one you really want to be on, put it last. totally counterintuitive to me. i said why? because they don't know you and they won't trust you. you have to demonstrate your credibility to the party over a period of a couple of terms then you'll get the committee you want. against the advice of my staff that argued very strenuously do not go on the judiciary committee it doesn't do anything. it talks about abortion or prayer in public school. it will kill you back home. over their objections it put out
of the five choices, put judiciary last. and that's how i ended up on the committee. >> great story. >> in a way it really impacted me to go from the freshman congress and be in the middle of the biggest scandal. >> you were' republican sitting -- how did that affect your career? >> it did two things. number one, i think it pretty much terminated any future i had as far as a leadership position in the party. >> because you were one of the first to vote for impeachment? >> right. and, secondly, it was very liberating. once the ambition to do anything more within the party structure was eliminated, i was pretty much free to do whatever i wanted. so, ambition can be a highly motivated factor and it can consume one. it didn't consume me for the reason i knew that there was really no opportunity within the party structure. i was pretty much a free agent the rest of my career. >> you did all right. you did all right. bill weld, would your life have
been different without watergate? >> it sure would have. it was the beginning of everything for me. i think of it as one of two events that electrified my generation, the other being the assassination of president kennedy and teddy white's book. but some people in my generation were disillusioned by watergate when gordon strong said -- one of the people who was convicted, what advice would he give to young people regarding public service, he said stay away, stay away. but for every one of those, there were ten who were very highly motivated. i shared an office with a young yale law graduate, hillary rodham. both of us went into public service. i came down there as a corporate lawyer and went back just championing to become a litig e litigator and criminal litigator. i was u.s. attorney under president reagan for five years and then head of the criminal
division down here for two years. and my stock and trade there was the idea that public corruption is not a victimless crime. and there's some sense in the past that it was and these cases were hard to prove. having lived through watergate, having listened to every minute of the tapes, it was simply impossible not to have a burning desire to uncover public corruption. and i became an ally of the press over the years in that we both wanted to knock down the same temple walls because we knew the rock that could rep ose within. and it was the watergate scandal that allowed me to take that tact. >> four months and two weeks in jail. how did it change your life? >> i would first like to say to my former colleagues that it's a lot easier to come into this building with valet parking than to come in -- it just works for
me, you know. well, obviously watergate changed it profoundly. i was involved in one of the horrors, the break-in of the office of a psychiatrist. we were motivated by what we thought was a national security imperative. that's what i was told by the president. i authorized a convert operation in july of 1971. it was carried out. nothing was found. but what that constituted at that time -- and i've looked back on this a lot over of the last few years, was a major breakdown in integrity. my personal integrity and that of the unit for which i worked. we asked a lot of questions about who can do this, when can they do it, how much will it cost? but we didn't ask the critical questions like, is it legal?
three of the four of us were lawyers. you would have thought that might have been relevant. and, basically, is it the right thing to do? is it consistent with basic values that we had? respect, responsibility, fairness, honesty. we didn't ask those questions. but when nothing was found, they did take pictures of a damaged office. and i remember asking, is there something about the word covert that was unclear? and then they said shut it down, which we did. some gentlemen that worked for me went on to the committee to work to re-elect the president. you can't get into trouble. i remember june 17th or 18th, i was at st. louis in a meeting. i came out and saw the news kiosk the story about the watergate break-in and read who was involved and i thought, this is going to change everything. wasn't sure just then what it would be. then i think i had maybe two or three days when i got back to
demonstrate the moral courage, which i wish i had at the time, to go in and tell the president what happened the year before. >> right. >> i think what richard bendenista and others have said, the cover-up was key -- not exclusively but primarily to cover up what happened in 1971. >> right. let me ask you about this national security. we asked people in the audience and online to ask questions. what you and fred thompson keep talking about keeps coming up. in post 9/11, is there more going on down at pennsylvania avenue in the name of national security that we should know? and would that taping system -- maybe we don't know. you study the presidency now. >> yes, i have. i don't know what's going on. i know that a president, if the country is attacked, has a responsibility to respond to that. he will put things into motion that he thinks will be responsive. whether it's outside the law, i
have no way of knowing. i do know president obama brought in someone to run his conflicts and ethics office. the question of national security, these threats are with us all the time. every president is going to respond to them in some way. the problem is that when national security is used to justify political activity, and i think that's what happened to me. at least that's what i bought into, in 1971. it was wrong then. it's wrong today. >> what do you think, the institutions, legacy of watergate, enough checks and balances that that kind of thing can't happen again? >> i think we have a potential repetition of watergate because we're looking at watergate. you saw power, money and secrecy. and today, you're seeing money and secrecy. i think the political system is being overwhelmed with money and a lack of accountability. the fact that you can have millions --
[ applause ] millions of dollars funneled into a particular campaign and the public will never know, certainly may not know until after the election. i think there are lessons that are still relevant. all of the so-called watergate reforms have pretty much gone by the wayside. >> the campaign financing? >> pacampaign finance. trying to have full disclosure, limit how much can be contributed. money will always play a major role in our political process and tends to limit are doom to failure. one thing you can insist is full accountability immediately so that the public at least knows by the way of internet or other opportunities who is getting what, how much and what's the accountability for -- people contributing, what are they seeking to get out of this particular candidate or this particular party? i think it's very dangerous what we're doing right now. i would like to see more
accountability and more disclosure and less secrecy. >> you want to weigh in on this, bill? >> well, i tend to agree. human nature, being what it is, if you don't have a vigilant press and vigilant public prosecutors, both state and federal, you're absolutely going to have danger of repetition here. plus, as the secretary and senator says, the dollar signs are so large these day that one super pac can move the needle. that didn't use to be true in the old days. i would subscribe to what my esteemed colleague said. >> you studied the presidency. what impact on the presidency did it have with the hindsight of 40 years and given the fact that it ebbed and flowed. >> i don't think they set up a taping system. that's something they probably have not done. i think they brought people on to the white house staff that are students of what happened in the past. i know that the center for the study of the presidency, we have
the ability to make contact with people on the current staff and convey to them some of the lessons that we learned about abuse of power. we've been able to -- >> what's the number one rule? >> the number one rule is adhere to your highest standards of integrity, the constitution and the rule of law at all costs. that's the rule. i mean, that's fundamental. and i did not understand that fully when i was there. it gets to loyalties. when i was sentenced to prison, judge gerhard gazel looked down and said what you did, you did by loyalty. i think it's important in those positions to understand that your loyalty is primarily to the constitution. when you put your hand on the bible and raise your right hand, that's what you swear to do, is to uphold the constitution